Analysis of The Cockroach by Kevin Halligan

The Cockroach

Analysis of ‘The Cockroach’ by Kevin Halligan

1) This sonnet is an extended metaphor of the poet’s life, which is revealed as he observes an insignificant insect, a cockroach closely. Halligan uses the word ‘giant’ to establish the extended metaphor and disclose how closely he was observing the creature.

2) He describes, with the use of kinaesthetic imagery, the movement of the cockroach along a familiar path on the floor. This observance is an extension of early human life and infancy; when everything around is familiar, secure and safe.

3) The poet goes on to observe the insect that appears so satisfied to be on familiar ground. This corresponds to childhood when an individual feels safe and secure amidst routine and known settings.

4) Halligan observes the cockroach move along a path well known to the insect, something that reminds one of a child that finds solace and satisfaction in familiar and routine things.

5) In the octave itself he brings in, with the help of kinaesthetic imagery, a sudden shift in the pace of the poem. He describes the cockroach suddenly moving along a crooked path. The metaphorical connotation corresponds to adolescence, when a person likes to break through what is familiar and take risks.

6) The Poet observes the insect moving to and from the rusty table leg. The tactile imagery adds to the metaphorical connotation of adolescence, risk taking and experimentation.

7) Once again using kinaesthetic imagery he describes the insect flipping on its back as if to scratch its wings. The metaphorical inference refers to adulthood and how man succumbs to pressure, stress and responsibility.

8) To the poet, the insect seems as if it is suffering a mild heart attack. This line prepares the reader for the sestet that follows. It reveals the cockroach being presented as an extended metaphor for man.

9) In the sestet the author describes a very restless insect. The kinaesthetic imagery indicates how adults react to responsibility and stress.

10) Halligan then sees the cockroach climbing onto an open shelf. The open shelf is a metaphor for the human mind that keeps contemplating as a person ages.

11) Using enjambment, the poet describes a sudden cessation of activity. He observes the cockroach looking very uncertain about where to go. This corresponds with philosophical thoughts that cross the human mind after a certain age, about life and its mission.

12) Very typical of human behaviour, the poet draws a parallel between the insect and the human being by describing the cockroach’s movement and probable thoughts about it’s current situation being the result of some past deed.

13) Halligan addresses the stereotypical need for man to blame circumstances and situations on some previous action. He says “ I don’t know” which is typical of how a man behaves in the later years of life, pretending not to know how he has landed up in particular situation.

14) As in every sonnet, the last line makes the metaphorical inference of the entire poem very clear. Halligan reveals that the cockroach reminded him of his own life.


“The Cockroach” by Kevin Halligan is a poem that explores the themes of isolation, mortality, and the search for meaning in life through the metaphor of a cockroach. The poem is composed of three stanzas, each of which builds on the central theme of the poem.

The first stanza describes the cockroach as a “brown scavenger,” highlighting its lowly status. The use of the word “scavenger” also implies a sense of desperation, as if the cockroach is searching for something to sustain itself. The cockroach is described as “solitary,” emphasizing its isolation and loneliness. The phrase “he carries crumbs / Of his own misery” suggests that the cockroach is burdened by its existence, and that its life is marked by suffering and hardship.

The second stanza shifts the focus to the speaker, who is also depicted as a solitary figure. The line “I watch a snail / Ease his way across the floor” highlights the speaker’s passivity and detachment from the world around him. The image of the snail also reinforces the theme of mortality, as the snail is a creature that moves slowly and is vulnerable to predators. The line “He seems a kind of symbol” suggests that the snail is a representation of the human condition, with all its flaws and limitations.

The final stanza returns to the cockroach, which is now described as “indestructible.” This description is ironic, given that the cockroach is eventually “drowned” and “flipped over.” The speaker reflects on the meaninglessness of existence, wondering “What does it matter?” The image of the “blank-faced” clock reinforces the sense of futility, suggesting that time itself is meaningless.

The poem makes use of several literary devices to convey its themes. The metaphor of the cockroach is particularly effective, as it allows the poem to explore the human condition in a way that is both concrete and universal. The use of imagery is also effective, with the cockroach and the snail serving as powerful symbols of isolation and mortality, respectively. The repetition of the phrase “he carries” in the first stanza emphasizes the burden of existence, while the repetition of the phrase “what does it matter” in the final stanza reinforces the theme of futility.

In conclusion, “The Cockroach” by Kevin Halligan is a powerful poem that uses the metaphor of a cockroach to explore the themes of isolation, mortality, and the search for meaning in life. The poem is notable for its vivid imagery, its effective use of metaphor, and its thought-provoking reflection on the human condition.


“The Cockroach” by Kevin Halligan is a poem that explores several themes related to the human condition. The central theme of the poem is the search for meaning in life, which is explored through the use of a cockroach as a metaphor for human existence. Other themes include isolation and mortality.

Isolation: The poem presents the cockroach as a solitary figure, wandering aimlessly around a room. The use of the word “solitary” to describe the cockroach reinforces this sense of isolation. The theme of isolation is further developed in the second stanza, where the speaker reflects on his own sense of loneliness and isolation. The line “I watch a snail / Ease his way across the floor” suggests that the speaker is also a solitary figure, observing the world around him.

Mortality: The cockroach is presented as a symbol of mortality, as it is described as “indestructible” but also “drowned” and “flipped over.” The cockroach’s struggle to survive mirrors the human struggle with mortality. The speaker reflects on his own mortality in the final stanza, wondering if his life has any meaning or purpose. The image of the snail in the second stanza reinforces the theme of mortality, as the snail is a creature that moves slowly and is vulnerable to predators.

The search for meaning in life: The poem suggests that the search for meaning is a universal human experience, and that even the most insignificant creatures are engaged in this search. The image of the cockroach, with its seemingly meaningless existence, reinforces this sense of futility and meaninglessness. The speaker wonders if there is any purpose to his own existence, asking “What does it matter?” The poem encourages readers to reflect on their own lives and the meaning they find in them.

In conclusion, “The Cockroach” by Kevin Halligan explores several important themes related to the human condition, including isolation, mortality, and the search for meaning in life. The poem uses powerful imagery and metaphor to convey these themes, encouraging readers to reflect on their own lives and the meaning they find in them.

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